Cover detail by Sean Phillips to "Reckless" v1, written by Ed Brubaker

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips Go European

If you missed the news this week, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips announced their latest venture.

It’s a series named “Reckless.” What it’s about is not important. You can take a wild guess what it’s about from the creators’ past history together. You get a period piece, some crime, some pulps, etc.

It’s the format of it that makes the project so interesting.

It’s a new series based on a single character.

Each book is a graphic novel, the first of which clocks in around 144 pages.

Each book tells a standalone story.

They will release three such books in the first year, with five more outlined to be produced (if demand warrants) at whatever speed they deem fit.

Does this sound familiar to you, Pipeline Faithful? Imagine a writer/artist pair working together on a series of albums that tell complete stories with a title character.

Heidi MacDonald compared it to Brubaker’s interest in “The Rockford Files.”

Brubaker compares it to the classic pulp novel heroes.

I think you can guess all the books I’m comparing it to.

I look at this and the comparison is obvious: It’s the European album model coming to North America. They’ve proved it out with two recent projects that were standalone graphic novels (“Pulp” and “My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies“). Now they’re just committing to the format for a longer term.

The typical European album is only 48 pages, with some going up into the 50s or 60s. Brubaker and Phillips will be doubling or nearly tripling that, but they’re also sticking with the standard comic size for their books. If they had pushed the same amount of material onto the larger page size of a European album, It would probably work out to be marginally more. I’m guessing the decision to stay with the standard North American comic size is because it’s what they’re comfortable and familiar working with, and the knowledge that Direct Market retailers are too insular and lazy to carry books of different sizes in numbers that would matter.

Releasing three books in one year is crazy, but “FRNK” did that recently with its first four books, but only after working on it for a year or two in advance of the first book’s release. Phillips just happens to be faster than the average bear, so he can pull this off at a slightly faster pace. (Charlie Adlard and Mark Bagley are the only other two artists I can think of who could come close to that kind of page.)

I can smell a movement starting. More creators are talking about this format. So far, it’s mostly been about the attraction to telling stories in the larger scale without the stop at every 20th page along with the relentless monthly deadlines.

I hope this first wave of creators and books figures that out quickly so they can get started working on and proving out the economic model that makes this work for more creators, particularly ones who haven’t been building an audience successfully for more than two decades together.

It’s fun to watch the old Direct Market cronies complaining about how this format will never work because creators are only getting paid once for their work and there’s no cheap entry point.

Dav Pilkey and Raina Telgemeier sure have been floundering for years under that model, haven’t they?

And now Brubaker and Phillips are doubling down on it.

But the truth is, it will be a slow start. The thing that works in this format is the long term play. There’s a saying in the novel writing community: Nothing sells the back list better than a new book. Capture a person with your style and your characters and your skills and they’ll go back to look for more. That’s when you have them.

From a business point of view, it’s also why trilogies are so popular. It’s much cheaper to retain a customer than to win a new one. Give them more of what they want! And if your series allows for new reader access at any volume, then you’ve just made customer acquisition a whole lot easier for yourself.

The trick the comics world may need to figure out is how to keep the material in print. It’s a new methodology of creating comics in the Direct Market, which hasn’t yet figured out how to order these things. The DM keeps under-ordering.

Will digital be enough to fill the gap? Will print-on-demand come to the rescue? Will crowdfunding be needed to help this along?

We might be waiting on answers to those questions for awhile yet, but it’s certainly a good sign to see some movement in this direction.

It is the opinion of Pipeline Comics that a shift in the Direct Market towards the album format is a good one, from a reader’s point of view. It is also a possible solution for the problems that ail the DM.

I can’t wait to see how this experiment goes…

What do YOU think? (First time commenters' posts may be held for moderation.)

5 Comments

  1. Well I guess you could see it coming, in the same vain that movies now release on VOD/streaming first, floppies will recede and the american comics business model shifts to graphic novels, insuring a safer and steadier revenue stream for creators. One full century later than Europeans, sure, but hey better late than never 🙂 Periodical comics had a good run.

  2. The first question that popped into my mind when I listened to the podcast version of your piece (I don’t see the link so I’m posting here) is this : you don’t seem to be addressing the underlying rationale that was given so far for America not adopting the European business model. The common reasoning used to be that material had to come out through floppy format first in order to be financed by those periodical instalments, only THEN a collected version, either a GN or TPB or HC release would be deemed affordable by the publisher. Was that all a lie ? Has the economy of the publishing business changed since that was generally accepted as a rule ? Until now, in the US market, the OGN was seen as an oddity because only insane publisher would shelve money upfront to make this happen, unless the creator was already an established bona fide superstar (Will Eisner, Frank Miller, and not many more, really) to make it a surefire. Even self-publishers were doing floppies first, I’m sure they thought about it, right ? So why, oh why, is this happening now ? Enlighten us, Ô Wise One 😉

    1. That reminds me — I never published show notes for that episode, did I? I’ll put something together for those tonight while I’m posting a review here, too. I’m keeping busy… And, yes, people still echo the line about the periodicals paying for the collections. The argument is also “get paid as many times as you can for the work you do”, which is a little more anti-consumer in some ways.

      I think it’s an argument that holds some water. It even works in France, where serials appears in Spirou Journal before showing up in their own albums.

      But I think it’s a piece of conventional wisdom in the Direct Market of North America that’s slipping away now, too. Monthly sales are so low — for a variety of reasons — that I’m not sure enough of them pay for themselves by the end of six issues. Some companies can afford them as loss leaders, but most are shying away from even that now, too. DC is shrinking its line and cancelling it’s lowest 20% of sellers, for example.

      Independent creators have it even worse — they don’t get the DC/Marvel automatic sales bump. Their books could lose so much that they then couldn’t afford to put them in the evergreen collected edition format.

      And here’s the other thing — readers have been trained to Wait for the Trade for almost 20 years now. I think more and more of them do that — particularly the aging Direct Market readers who want to read full stories, don’t like paying $5 for 20 pages of story, and just have family lives too busy to get to the comics shop every week.

      I think the Conventional Wisdom about serials paying for the trades needs to be rethought. I don’t see anyone talking about this yet. I’m sure there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to go against me here, but I bet the trend line heads in this direction. Fewer comic shops, fewer readers, COVID-19, etc. etc. I’d love to see more numbers on this, but we never will. We just need to watch where the creators go and ask ourselves what that proves. Is the fabulous success of the OGNs that Brubaker and Phillips are doing an outlier? Does it uniquely work for their storytelling style, or the needs of their readership, in particular? Or is it an example of The Next Big Thing?

      And, thanks, I think that gives me a topic for another podcast. =)

      1. You’re welcome. I’ll be expecting some residuals 😀
        When you say “fabulous success”, what kind of sales are we talking about ? Do you have numbers ? Can we actually compare to others. I mean, on the scale between Dave Sim/Jim Balent and Brian Vaughan/Robert Kirkman , where would that go ?